A family with an abusive father, a sensitive son, and a mother out of her depth: we see them when Michael is about 12 and when he's in his 30's, a writer of romance novels, going home for his mother and sister's college graduations. We go back and forth between the two periods: when Michael is a boy, the pressure builds until a break is threatened and there's a fight; during his trip home, there's an unexpected death, and renewed relationships between father and son, Michael and his aunt, and Michael and his aunt's young children. Michael's estranged wife joins them for the funeral.
This is a complex movie, and it is interesting to see Ryan Reynolds in a role that was not in the least bit humorous. I am not sure he was accurately cast as the older version of Michael as he seems to be a little too sarcastic for the role, it seems to be in his voice. For example one line he delivers, "I don't know why, living with him is like Christmas everyday," is so out of place and doesn't seem to make much sense for him to say to another minor character in the movie. It was unnecessary.
The main characters are played by Willam Defoe, Julia Roberts, and Ryan Reynolds. The movie is complex, as are the relationships of the characters. The father, played by Defoe, is a very abusive man, more verbally and emotionally than physically. Roberts plays his wife and throughout the movie she placates Defoe as he abuses their eldest child, played by Reynolds.
I understand that movies like this are supposed to represent real life situations, but I often wonder about this. Throughout this movie there is a child, Christopher, who feels that he is the cause of his aunt's death, but I found him a little annoying. The struggling relationship between Charlie (the father) and Michael (the son) is difficult to watch because I continually wondered how no one stepped in to help the young Michael. Then again, it was a different time, but this too seems like an excuse.
Honestly I agree with many of the critics about this movie. It was long and seemed to take forever to reach a point of interest. The writing was a little cliche. The characters were underdeveloped (the viewer never really learns much about the younger sister, Ryne, or why Aunt Jane had to live with the family for a while). The shifts between the present and the past don't always seem to relate, so the transitions weren't done as well as they could have been.
This is a movie that tried to be bigger and more heartfelt than it was. Even the cast couldn't save it from being dull.